Saturday, 27 July 2013

REVIEW: Life's A Breeze (2013)

Life’s A Breeze is a return to homegrown cinema for Lance Daly (Last Days in Dublin, The Halo Effect and Kisses) following the disappointing release of The Good Doctor. Life’s A Breeze is much safer territory, it being a family comedy with Pat Shortt, but there is something of more interest lurking under the film’s surface.

Fionnula Flanagan (Ulysses, Some Mother’s Son, Man About Dog, The Guard) plays the matriarch to a large family who are all feeling the toll of the economic crisis. Her useless son Colm (Shortt – This Is My Father, The Closer You Get, Saltwater, Wild About Harry, Mapmaker, Man About Dog, Inside I’m Dancing, Garage, The Guard) lives with her and begrudgingly signs on every week. When her children unexpectedly tidy up her house for her, a large sum of money is unknowingly dumped and the family must come together to track it down.

As a yarn, the film is slightly inept, not as funny as it should be and overlong. It is more interesting, and successful, as a comment on the Celtic Tiger generation. In fact, a lot of what doesn’t add up initially starts to make sense when one thinks of it as a satire. For example, it is clear that the family is short of money, but an extended sequence in which they show Nan (Flanagan) around the house, pointing out all of the expensive changes they have made, showing that they are spending it anyway. This doesn’t add up and is very distracting, until later on when one begins to pick up on the fact that the film is possibly more than just a silly comedy. Hence, it is a comment on people spending money they don’t have – a scenario the film will revisit a few more times – and, hence, by extension, a comment on Ireland’s, and the world’s, economic collapse.

The film is mainly about the developing relationship between Nan (Flanagan) and her grandmother Emma (Kelly Thornton, her debut), their connection due, as is often suggested by inference, to the fact that one predates and the other comes after the Celtic Tiger. All of Nan’s children have been effected by the Celtic Tiger, scarred by a brief period of wealth, they are constantly spending money that they don’t have and, at the prospect of a large sum of money coming their way, are frequently seen arguing over their share of their inheritance. Nan is clearly contemptuous of their generation and, as one of the final shots makes explicit, does not fit in with her own family. Emma, on the other hand, represents a hope for Ireland, since she is young, uncorrupted and used to scrimping and saving. A final image of Emma, almost like in The Searchers, leaving the house and watching the traffic jam outside is eloquent of possibility for her as much as it is the mediocrity of everyday existence chasing after money.

Daly, who also wrote the script, layers in a variety of reflections of modern-day post-crash Ireland, which comment on and frequently deflate the light comedy of the story. Life’s A Breeze is a deceptively light film, revealing much darker truths though not always as well as it might. At one point, Emma finds herself wandering around a large abandoned building in which homeless people are living in horrible conditions. The pacing is slow, taking in every detail but it is also tense, as if Emma is going to be attacked at any minute. It is a moving sequence and an important one – for a film that mocks the Celtic Tiger generation should be open to be the real damage that has been done. And yet, it is really quite damaging to the film overall. As valid as this sequence is, it is unclear whether it is supposed to be sad and threatening and, much worse, when the happy, light entertainment returns, it seems distractingly hollow and forced. Daly may well be commenting on the emotional volte-face that we are all capable of doing after seeing some form of economic hardship on our streets – a reading that makes the film a lot more interesting and worth a second viewing – but it feels more like a political comment stymied by the film’s need to tell a satisfying yarn.

For every environmental-scare scene – the destruction of the land to make huge landfills – there is a tacky scene in which Nan and Emma have a laugh, whilst on a landfill. It is entirely possible that Life’s A Breeze is a thoroughly ironic and accusatory film disguised as a Pat Shortt comedy (in keeping then with Garage and The Guard, in which Shortt is cast as either a dramatic or comedic comment on his otherwise rather grating persona) but this subversion is jarring rather than revealing.

Life’s A Breeze may prove to be more interesting on a second viewing, when one may expect and look out for the subversions that may or may not be present. It is a difficult film to judge since its deficiencies, as a light comedy may instead be a means of expressing the absurdity of life and the corruption of the Celtic Tiger. However, by turning a film’s flaws into virtues, one wonders if one isn’t making more of the film than is really there. Life’s A Breeze is certainly interesting but it feels like a stretch to consider its fluctuations between light comedy and grim Loachian drama an important comment on our own ability to ignore the problems of people around us and, by extension, a comment on a film’s ability to distract us from these problems. Life’s A Breeze is either rather poor or it is a surprisingly self-aware and important film – one of those strange gems in which the truth, one suspects, lies somewhere between design and dumb luck. 

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